by Eshaan Kapoor ’23
Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up is a paradoxical film in essence: it’s a comedy (albeit a strange, almost dark one) that attempts to critique the serious issue of humanity’s ignorance towards existential issues, such as climate change.
In the film, Ph.D. candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and her professor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) discover a killer comet rushing towards planet Earth on a collision course; they estimate humanity has six months to save itself from the complete destruction of the race.
However, the societal commentary comes in the twist of this plot. Normally, a movie with this premise would focus on a great scientific effort to destroy the threat, yet in Don’t Look Up, seemingly everyone besides Diabiasky and Dr. Mindy, and NASA Planetary Defense Coordination Office head Dr. Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), completely ignore the extreme situation. In fact, they tend to make a mockery of it.
This attitude, and the scientists’ struggle to get the world to understand the gravity of the situation, are McKay’s way of critiquing our real-world response to climate change, an issue extremely pressing yet often overlooked in day-to-day life.
Overall, it is hard to disagree with McKay’s point; humanity must pay more attention to the pressing and most urgent issue on its hands. However, where the movie loses value is in its presentation of the aforementioned ignorance. Since the majority of the film’s comedy is derived from this ignorance, McKay often exaggerates it. The president of the USA (Meryl Streep) infamously tells the scientists to “sit tight and assess,” as “you cannot go around telling people that there is a 100% chance they’re going to die,” and television hosts comment on the physical appearance of Dr. Mindy, rather than his presentation.
While it can be argued that his point is only emphasized by his exaggerations, it is more probable that viewers are turned off by the dark humor that makes them up.
Furthermore, McKay’s comedic pursuit sometimes ventures off into pointless plot events. A major instance of this occurrence is when Dr. Mindy has an affair with the ignorant television host, Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett), though he is married with adult children. Such an event furthers the film’s already absurd feeling, but without reason. There is no significant purpose for this affair, and it undermines one of the few sane characters in the film.
However, while McKay’s depictions may often cross the line of over-exaggeration and absurdism, there are nevertheless some realistic events, such as the world’s obsession with a social media scandal in times of impending doom.
Overall, the central principle of the film remains ever-important: we must improve our actions and remove our ignorance to better our own existential issues.